Blueberry Pie: When Food Literally was part of my Therapy Routine

By: Giselle General

Content Warning: References to sexual assault, mental health treatment.

This story is from my experiences between February and September 2017, a transformative and healing time for me as far as my mental health and outlook in life.

February 2017 was when I had my first therapy appointment with the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, a free therapy service for those who survived sexual abuse. My boss at the time suggested this resource in November 2016, right after she noticed I was reeling from the election of Donald Trump. Let’s just say it was not great as a sexual abuse survivor to have a prominent politician still elected after it was revealed he made statements like “grab the women by the pussy.”

After I did the online application and got the screening phone call in November 2016, I was told I’m waitlisted. Then I got notified that I am in and can book my first appointment. It was about mid-February in 2017, at 4 PM.

I chose 4 PM because the clinic is open only during office hours, but at the same time, I’d like to be at work for as long as I could before taking off for the day. Making up the work hours is not an issue at all. I’d leave work at 3 PM to take the bus to the office for the appointments.

For something as emotionally tough and draining such as therapy, especially for something traumatic like sexual assault, I didn’t realize how starved I was right after the appointments. Luckily, there is a business plaza right across the street, with this shop named Fifendekel. Due to the bus schedule, I actually arrive in the area 20 minutes before the appointment.

For the first few appointments, I’d stop by there, get a sandwich and a drink and eat it right away before the appointment. I’d rotate between the egg salad, tuna salad, or chicken salad, no tomatoes but extra sprouts. But I learned that it throws off my appetite for dinner. Also as it turns out, feeling stuffed while talking about heavy topics was not comfortable – I mean physically. Emotional discomfort is already there since, well, it’s therapy.

One time I decided to get food after the appointments, but I learned the hard way that they close at 4:30. So I learned that whether I’ll eat it right away or later, my window of opportunity is before my appointment. And that’s what I did.

While waiting for my sandwich to be assembled, I always look at the desserts glass display, eyeing the small paper plates with single slices of pie. I love blueberry pie, so whenever it’s there I’d order a slice to eat at the store. When I started ordering my food to-go, I was worried whether it will travel well in the take-out box, but it did, thank goodness!

So for many of the appointments I had afterwards, a routine was set. I’d leave work, take the bus, walk a few blocks to get a yummy sandwich and pie, put it in my briefcase vertically and head on to the appointment. Afterwards, I’d take a cab to take me home and have my sandwich and pie by myself in our breakfast bar by the kitchen. I literally felt like I’m being re-fueled, from the delicious food and moments of peace and quiet I have before my husband goes home after having dinner at his parent’s place.

Then at bedtime, we would do what we call the “therapy after the therapy”. While cozy in our bed, my husband would ask “how did therapy go?” and would diligently listen to any new insights or techniques I learned from the appointment.

Of course during the appointments, it is unavoidable that I share to my therapist a story or two about my husband. Oftentimes, those were positive stories of love, support and care towards me. The approval and glee from my therapist is quite evident. I’d tell this to my husband. He would then ask “so, I am therapist-approved?’ And I’d say “yes, absolutely you are!”

The appointments went from weekly for a few months, and then became bi-weekly by the summer, and then in early fall, for August and September, they became once a month. Until such time that my therapist felt it was a good time to wrap up.

Over the years, whenever I had blueberry pie, whether at a restaurant or a meal with love ones, I would always think fondly to myself “oh, there’s my therapy pie!”

Community Resource Article – When Debt Issues Arise

By: Giselle General

This article was also submitted by the author as a contribution to the Alberta Filipino Journal (a cultural/ community newspaper in the province of Alberta, Canada) in June 2022.

Managing one’s finances is an important responsibility in order for us to have a comfortable life. But sometimes, unexpected things happen, and we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation. Perhaps the bills, mortgage, rent or credit card payments were left unpaid too many times and things have escalated a bit. Perhaps you are about to lose your home, or received a court document, or been subjected to aggressive phone calls or messages from those who want payment.

Here are some resources that can help when financial problems turn for the worse.

When Financial Debt Requires Legal Help

  1. Consumer Debt Negotiation Project Program – Edmonton Community Legal Centre: Many of us have consumer debt, such as credit card payments, car loans, personal loans, even a mortgage. You might be falling behind on payments, and you discovered that there is a legal action that happened, let’s say, you received a court document from the bank or the company you owe money to. You can contact this free program so you can get an opportunity to speak to a lawyer to get help.To contact this service, to go the website https://www.eclc.ca/need-legal-support/ and then click on the box that says “For Consumer Debt Negotiation Project”

Emergency Financial Supports

  1. Community Bridge Program: Funds To Prevent Getting Kicked Out by Landlord: If you are renting the place where you live right now, and you fell behind on rent payments, it is likely that your landlord would want to evict you. Getting kicked out of the place where you live can be very stressful and disruptive. This program is a financial ‘rapid response’ as a last resort so you can stay in your place and make payments you missed. The link to access this program is https://bissellcentre.org/programs/individual/community-bridge/
  2. Emergency Needs Allowance – Government of Alberta: This is a program direct from the Alberta Government for when you face an unexpected emergency that can present a health risk and caused by unexpected circumstances that you cannot pay for. It can cover a wide range of needs such as food, clothing, childcare, temporary shelter, utility payments, eviction payments and more. The link to get more information and how to apply is:    https://www.alberta.ca/emergency-financial-assistance.aspx

Financial Literacy – Learning about Money Management

  1. Credit Counselling Society – Online Courses: This is a self-paced online course that focus on financial management skills such as learning the realities of credit, budgeting, spending on food, and more. In addition to the online courses, they also have other ways to support when you are currently facing financial difficulty. https://nomoredebts.org/financial-education/online-courses  
  2. Each One, Teach One: This program is designed for bankers to deliver basic financial literacy workshops to newcomers, refugees, individuals who face barriers to financial services, and people living in low-income communities, in a “teach the teacher” type of format. It is comprehensive, as it covers topics beyond just budgeting and debt, such as investments, contracts, and fraud prevention.  https://www.myunitedway.ca/each-one-teach-one/
  3. Money Mentors Financial Education: Money Mentors also provides services to help people in financial difficulties, and they have also educational content on their website. The catalogue is even more comprehensive than the other two, addressing other complex but common issues like preparing financially for a baby, having unpredictable income sources, home ownership, money discussions in inter-generational households, and many more.   https://moneymentors.ca/financial-education/  

This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope that this is a useful starting point. After you contact these resources, it is possible also that they might recommend other programs and services to help with your situation. Having financial issues can be stressful and embarrassing, but a lot of the time, the staff and volunteers that are part of these programs are understanding and compassionate. When contacting them, I highly recommend sharing all the necessary details and not leave out information even if it feels shameful. Complete transparency is important for them to understand your compete situation in order for you to get the best help you need.

Free Man and Woman Sitting at Table Stock Photo

“Matanim ay ‘di Biro!” On Indoor Plant Care

By: Giselle General

Magtanim ay di biro, Maghapong nakayuko, Di naman makatayo, Di naman makaupo! (Planting is not a joke, as you need to bend over all afternoon, you cannot stand, you cannot sit!)

This is a folk song I remember learning as a child, about the hard work that is required to plant rice in farming fields. While I personally haven’t experienced that as a child since I grew up in a mountainous region in the Philippines before coming to Canada, it got instilled in my mind that care for plants is a serious and important thing.

Potted plants were a common thing in the homes where I lived in both countries. They came in different forms: an outdoor plant box, milk cans or clay pots for indoor plants, or just a raised garden bed right by the stairs leading up to the house. But plant care in Canada was a whole different ball game since the drastically changing seasons dictate what, when and how plants need to be care for.

I started paying more attention to indoor plants in the places I lived in, when I moved in with my then boyfriend, now husband. In his condo, he had one potted plant that he got from his mom as a housewarming gift. It’s one of those generic types of plants seen in many people’s homes. He had a nickname for it that stuck, Mr. Plant. We found the perfect spot for it, right beside the narrow living room window, perched by the edge of the TV stand. It was relatively low maintenance, watering it once a week and not putting any fertilizer was enough for it to survive long enough for us to take it to the house we moved in to in 2015.

That house came with one plant that was hanging by the stairwell ceiling, so we nicknamed it H. Plant, and yes H stands for “hanging”. We watered it regularly but didn’t put fertilizer as we never got into the habit of it. When there were a few leaves that were dying, I’d cut them off and put it in the pot, hoping to myself that it can be somehow a fertilizer substitute. I thought, it’s organic material, right? We also inherited an Aloe Vera plant from our friend, after their then newly-acquired cat kept on attacking it, which we aptly nicknamed A.V. Plant. It’s quite obvious that we name things in a practical, not creative way. We got a few other small pots of plants that didn’t survive as long, such as the one I got as a wedding gift, and one free pot I got from work for Earth Day.

A plate of spaghetti with homemade pesto sauce.

Sometime later in the year 2021, when we were shopping at Costco, my husband decided to take an impulse purchase, which is very rare. He decided to get tabletop Aerogarden, which is a techy pot for plants that uses water, fertilizer, with buttons and a digital screen to remind you to add water, change water, put fertilizer, and more. This was set up for planting herbs. I was at first skeptical of it, but the husband seems eager to try it, and promised to be on top of the maintenance. And it worked! Some of the plants grew early and quickly, and I had to keep up with trimming and harvesting the herbs and integrate them in our meals. That has been pretty fun, and delicious! The best part for me is being able to make homemade pesto with the very healthy basis plants (both Genove Basil and Thai basil) that is tasty and nut free. The dill has died and we tried to put a root of a spring onion and it also worked!

As a couple, we’ve never really been the type to pick plants for our house because they are pretty. We were so low maintenance and unmotivated to put plants in our front lawn and backyard in the bigger house we had! But the Aerogarden sparked a new interest to plant things that are more of a win-win for us, healthy because of better air quality inside the house, and healthy because they are edible. In Edmonton, there’s also additional conversations about edible gardens in outdoor settings. More people are setting up fruit and vegetable garden beds and pots in their front yard, more neighbourhood groups are setting up community gardens (including my own), and the city is helping those who want to put edible food plants in trails and neighbourhood ponds.

In addition to increased conversations about planing for sustenance, there’s also more encouragement towards planting outdoors with a goal towards naturalization. As in, planting pants, shrubs, bushes that are native plant species in the area, and in a way where mowing won’t be necessary. I thought that there’s merit to the idea, and I’m eager to see more people take up on it. Now that we moved to a townhouse with a very small patch of dirt under our property lines, I don’t think we’ll be able to contribute much to this idea. Overall, it’s pretty neat to see what captures people’s interest in plant care in their homes and immediate surroundings!

The Courage from Admitting Fear

Giselle thinking while resting her face on her hands

By: Giselle General

“That is a cool idea, my love. But I don’t feel comfortable initiating that at all. If we’re gonna do it, I need you to set it up, or at least do it along with me.”

When you are so used to being your own provider, advocate, and nurturer, when you are in survival mode for so long, being afraid can be devastating. Feeling fear means being vulnerable, which means being harmed, putting myself and the people I care about the most (which for most of my childhood would be my brother), at huge physical and emotional risk. The pain would be a double-whammy, from the situation and how our unmet practical needs are exposed, and from the heartache from realizing there is no one to rely on.

Being vulnerable enough to express discomfort is one of the biggest risks I’ve taken, and continue to take, in my adult life. The only setting where I’ve felt okay enough to do this, is the place that matters that most, my own home.

For me, admitting fear involves these different parts and with all of them together, has helped in addressing, confronting or putting things in perspective.

First, is giving myself permission to be concerned or afraid or threatened. Learning that ’emotions are information’ is the foundation of me being able to do this. I’ve learned to not immediately attach a moral assessment to my emotions, and that the concern or fear is related to something about how I perceive my environment. Since all emotions are valid, I’ve learned that it is okay for my mind and hear to express whatever I am feeling in that moment.

Second, is labeling, putting into words the type of fear, and saying it out loud. Anxious, uncomfortable, overwhelmed, unsafe, uncertain, confused, worried about being injured, are just some of the ways I now express my fear about something. Another important part is being able to assess and rate the level of fear. It can be 2 out of 10 level of worry about something in the near future. It can be a split second 5 out of 10 quick jump scare because a garden snake jumped out to our walking path. It could be a 4 out of 10 moment of anxiousness because of having to go door-knocking as a political candidate who is a visibly Asian woman. I realized that the more specific the descriptor and the number rating, the more capable I am in doing the next two steps.

Third, is reaching out to express it. This is also a work in progress. Even the mere act of saying, just to myself “hoo boy, I’m worried about this!” is a milestone in itself. A few times, I’ve come along with my husband and his running group that has meetups all year long, including winter at -30. During one of the winter runs during a milder day, I joined him and the route involved some trails along a side of a hill, doable in the summer but with ice and snow it’s a bit tricky. Allowing myself to even pause and look afraid for long enough for my husband to notice my apprehension, is a form of expression I wasn’t always able to do.

The final one, is to find solutions and asserting my boundaries. I eventually learned that it is okay, it is possible, to move away from the threat. There are a variety of solutions, whether it is just vent and let it go, or monitor the situation because I’m more informed and equipped these days, or let someone do the heavy lifting on my behalf. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I now feel okay saying “that will be physically or medically unsafe, so no thank you” or not be ashamed to tell myself that my financial security is more important at this point.

Two hands reaching out to hold each other

For so long, the definition of courage that I embraced is in enduring, persisting, putting a brave face. All of that is important, and all of that is out of necessity. My goodness though, it is nice to not to do that all the time. I want to close this post with the lyrices of a song that always resonates with me when thinking about this topic, “The Warrior is a Child” by Gary Valenciano.

Lately I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing
I’m strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me
I’m hiding all the tears

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child

Unafraid because his armor is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I’m amazing
I never face retreat
But they don’t see the enemies
That lay me at his feet

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while (I cry for just a while)
‘Cause deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
The warrior is a child

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and look up for a smile
‘Cause deep inside this armor (deep inside)

Deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
Deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
The warrior is a child

The Latest Sexual Assault Nightmare

Close up of a person's eyes looking afraid

By: Giselle General

Trigger warning: Trauma flashbacks, nightmares, violent sexual assault

I’m sharing this in time for Sexual Violence Awareness Month, which is in May. If you have experienced sexual violence, there is help. This is just one of the many amazing organizations that can provide support and healing. https://www.sace.ca/

On Easter Sunday, my husband and I decided to go to bed like it’s a regular Sunday. He is working the next day while I have the day off.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I had a horrific nightmare. Having nightmares related to sexual assault is not new to me, I’ve had them on and off for a few years. But this was such an expected curveball.

I was captured, together with other people, in what looked like a room in a building located in the mining village where I grew up. There were no other clues or signs that indicated where I was, just the people I was with. I was with N (a childhood classmate), his mother C and a few people whose faces I can’t figure out.

Our captors look like soldiers, and they were rounding up the people they have captured. I don’t hear any sounds from the others, because I was paralyzed in horror as I realized what they were doing to the younger women like me. The soldiers were taking turns raping them.

And then, came my turn. My vantage point shifted from what was happening around me to just seeing how my face, my eyes looked like. I can’t tell who or how many men were violating my body. I can’t tell where it hurts, what body parts or tools were they using. Did they have a gun pointed at my head? Were they yanking my hair so they can access my mouth? Am I getting struck by sticks, ropes, or knives? Was the pounding in my vagina or anus so rough my body shook uncontrollably? I don’t know, I couldn’t tell.

From my vantage point, I see just my head, sometimes bouncing and shifting in direction, likely because someone or something was ramming inside me. Am I lying down, am I tied up, am I sitting up, am I being straddled, carried or thrown around? I can’t tell.

Everything around her face – my face – was fading away. And my eyes – her eyes – came to focus. And I know that look. The flash of horror from knowing what is about to happen, then the silent scream of taking in all the pain happening all around my body inside and out, and how much being violated is ripping my soul. And then, the resignation and escape, when the brown of my eyes lost sparkle and life, still wide open but fading into dullness and numbness. My head bounces more roughly, the invasion getting frantic. My mind trying to tell me “he’s almost done, it’ll be over soon”.

The next thing I know, I’m thrown into the ground, my body naked, grime and mud on my arms, legs and knees, my belly feeling hollow and raw. I lay them stunned for a few minutes, and then I tried to crawl on my hands and knees, forcing myself to sit up. As I painfully manage to do so, I look down between my legs. There’s a pool of blood on the dirty floor, slowly growing in size.

I frantically crawled to the end of the room, where my fellow captives were. I locked eyes with N, who was sitting beside his mother. As I get closer to them, C had a good look at my battered, broken body and my lifeless eyes. She then pulled my in her lap, the way a mother would for her child. I scrambled to touch the blood still coming out from between my legs and weakly asked “I’m not that broken, am I?” She said “no you’re not!” and pulled me closer, as if giving me permission to seek refuge in her arms. I crawled closer to her lap, and wept.

Silhouette of three Soldiers Walking

And that’s when I woke up, shaking, crying and breathing hysterically. It shook the bed so much that it woke my husband, who swiftly took me in his arms. This is nothing new to him, although I can tell for sure, the first time in at least a few years.

What’s even more messed up is that it’s not the sexual assault that distressed me so much to wake me up. It was when a motherly figure, one that I don’t have anymore, tried to give support and comfort. The reminder of what I don’t know, of what I will never have again, is what hurt more, enough to shake me awake.

It wasn’t until the morning when I was about to prepare for lunch, alone in the house, that I realized that it has been fifteen years since the sexual assault incidences that happened to me took place. It felt like so long ago, but at the same time, it doesn’t.

Another realization that made me pause is the gruesome scene that came in my dream. The sexual abuse I experienced was with a known person, and involved more blackmail and quiet threats. No tools, weapons, or violent physical injuries occurred. I think that subconsciously, the knowledge that rape and sexual abuse are common tactics in war came up on the surface that night.

During that week I had a surprise. Turns out, my next therapy appointment is for that upcoming Sunday. It was a relief knowing that I’ll have my phone call in just six days instead of thirteen. Telephone therapy went well overall, and this was the last thing I brought up. He confirmed something he had said in the past, the reality of how trauma works. Triggers can be unexpected and can pop up anytime, and it will affect me in varying degrees for the rest of my life. Hearing this a few times in the past, it feels more reassuring every time. Because it means I’m not flawed or weak or bad for having reactions to these again.

But with all that said, I’ll be glad if it is five years or more before I get a horrific nightmare of this sort!

Telephone Therapy Appointments: 3 Tips

Giselle wearing a black T shirt and red headphones

By: Giselle General

Therapy, the mental health kind, is something that I have been doing on and off since 2017. It’s remarkable how much time has passed since I first experienced going to a centre with a business-and-clinic vibe waiting room, and sitting in a cozy office with a couch-like chair and chatting with a professional with a clipboard.

Due to the pandemic, I had my first opportunity to do a few virtual therapy sessions with someone I’ve met in person a few times. It worked out well because I’ve met her in-person many times before, so there is a rapport and a baseline of trust.

Now, I’ve been having appointments on a regular basis with my latest therapist for the past two and a half years now. This doctor, I’ve never met in person at all! The primary format of their mental health service is telephone appointments, so video meetings were not even an option. When I asked my family doctor’s clinic to be referred to this service though, I know I needed regular and ongoing mental health support without worrying about whether I’ll ran out of appointments.

Here’s an overview of my top three tips on how to make telephone therapy appointments as successful as possible.

First: Mindset and Expectations

Telephone therapy appointments, in terms of actual logistics, is different in many ways compared to virtual or in-person therapy.

The lack of opportunity to see facial expressions or nonverbal cues is a disadvantage. They will have a difficult or impossible time telling whether you are lying or withholding information. So in my opinion, this is most suitable for someone willing and able to be more forthcoming with their struggles. I think that telephone therapy can help a lot with issues that are not an escalated crisis.

For those that might have trouble being too vulnerable in a closed off space like an office, or might even have trouble with being honest when someone is watching their face, then telephone appointments can be advantageous. It can help someone be more up front because they don’t have to be afraid of seeing their doctor’s facial reactions immediately upon hearing their comments or stories.

Second: Preparation

It’s best to establish a physical space where you would speak to the therapist in private. Tidying or re-organizing the space, whether it is the desk and chair, a bed, living room, dining room can help you focus on the important and vulnerable conversations that is coming up.

Charge your phone and ensure it is 100% and ensure your headphones, if you’re using one, are nearby. I personally prefer having headphones because it keeps my hands free to do other tasks.

Now here’s where telephone appointments have advantages. If you think you would need to fidget, you can do so – just have your fidget items right next to you. I tend to write notes and the doctor’s advice during the appointment, something I haven’t done in in-person appointments since it just feels so awkward to me. You can have a drink of choice instead of just water if you want, like tea of coffee or smoothie. Although for myself, water has always worked.

I highly suggest preparing the topics you would like to talk about. During the initial appointment, when the therapist asks the awkward and important question “what brings you in today?” be prepared to say the difficulty you are having and a short summary of the backstory. So for me, for one of the things I need help with I said “I am running for elected office next year and will be starting a lot of work in a few months, so I am asking for help on an ongoing basis to deal with stress during this period of time and managing my real fears from being an immigrant, minority woman who might be attacked and hurt”.

If it is a follow-up appointment, the first two will likely be follow-ups or updates on previously discussed issues, and if there are any, one to two new things you’d like to talk about. I usually write this on a notepad, with space in between the points I wanted to talk about, to write any insights, advice or next steps most relevant to the topic.

Third: Appointment Day

It’s appointment day! Your supplies are ready, phone is charged and you are on your way to the private quiet space you picked for the phone call. I treat it as seriously as going out to an actual appointment, so I feed myself a good meal, wear ‘going out’ clothes but more comfortable versions (like a nice swater and slacks) but I skip the shoes.

I also give myself a small window of time to be the commute or the waiting room time, just about five minutes. My husband has been understanding about this, so he leaves our bedroom, I lock the door and he goes way to the other end of the house, like the living room, to be out of earshot.

Another benefit of telephone appointments is because no one will see you, you can be as visually expressive as you need to be. You can flail your hands while explaining something that’s upsetting. You can roll your eyes when the doctor says something that makes you react “duh, why didn’t I think of it that ways before?!” You can switch what your hands are doing between fidgeting, typing notes, or wiping tears and snot off your face. I typically write down a few bullet points for each of my concern that I can categorize as follows: insights, counter-points, action items.

One thing I strongly advice against is multi-tasking. No social media or emails or chores during the appointment. Since it is likely that the impact of a telephone appointment is slightly diminished from not interacting face to face, multi-tasking and getting distracted makes it worse.

Finally, after the appointment, give yourself at least five minutes to take a breath and process. Those few minutes right after an in-person appointment, when you walk out of the lobby out of the office to start traveling home, are helpful for a reason. Especially if it is an emotionally heavy conversation, it helps your mind settle a bit before you resume with the rest of your day.

A woman with a short haircut and brown and white sweater, on a phone call with her cellphone and writing on a notepad on her desk.

After each appointment, same principles apply to in-person or virtual appointments. If there is homework or readings or activities that were asked of you to do before your next appointment, do them as diligently as if they told you in person.

Just like any other way of getting support for one’s struggles, therapy will likely not be enough to help solve one’s trauma and past hurts, so I suggest thinking of the methods of therapy the same way. It’s okay to patiently put up with the realities of telephone therapy and then switch to your preferred methods at the first opportunity. But who knows, maybe the conveniences of telephone therapy can help you access it on a more frequent basis so that it can help with your self-improvement goals.

My “Turning Red” Story: When I Got My First Period

Scene from Disney Pixar Movie "Turning Red". Mei, as a red panda, looks at her reflection in her home's bathroom mirror.

In honour of the soon-to-end International Women’s Month, and in appreciation of the recent Disney Pixar movie Turning Red, I’d like to share the memorable and also a bit scary experience I had when I got my first period.

By the way, I got mine when I was in Grade 5, at 10 years old. So for those who argue that getting periods is not a topic for children, this is something that kids experience all the time!

As a storekeeper of a sari-sari store, I’m familiar with menstrual projects, which we nickname “napkins” in the Philippines. I noticed though that when kids come to our store to buy them, they always asked that it be wrapped in newspaper, or in an opaque plastic bag that conceals what is inside. When I ran out of newspaper, I’d use the cardboard from a 10-pack of cigarettes, or a bag from a wholesale pack of candy or bubble gum – those things are thick and brightly colored. During the movie, when Mei’s mother was putting different types of pads on the bathroom counter while describing them “regular, overnight, scented, wings…” it make me chuckle.

Just like most of my weekends, I was left alone watching over our little store in the mining village where I used to live at the time. Grandma (Lola Aleg) left for the day, to go to the city to get products for the store. Or is it for a while weekend or week? She’s gone so often I can’t keep track.

It was early in the weekend, when my mischievous self was tempted to sneak a chip bag from the store inventory as a snack for myself. It was 10 AM so the electricity for the whole village was shut off for a few hours already, an austerity measure that the mining company introduced a year ago. If I needed to go to the bathroom which is in the basement of our little store, I have to very carefully head down the ladder and do my business in a tiny room that is almost pitch black.

I went to the bathroom and in the faint light coming from the window, I saw something very wrong in my panties. I thought to myself, OMG! I can’t believed I pooped my pants without even knowing! This is what I get from sneaking too many snacks from the store display. It was sticky and brown, but surprisingly not as smelly as poop normally would. I hurriedly changed into clean underwear, fumbling in the dark where my underwear bag would be, worried that a customer would be calling from the storefront upstairs.

Then 4 PM comes around and electricity is back in the village. I went to the bathroom again to checked if there’s anything unusual in my underwear. This time around, there’s no mistaking it. It’s liquid, it’s sticky, it’s red – it’s a period! I hurried to try to wash both panties with water and bath soap, as I didn’t know how to clean blood off of fabric then. We learned that later in the school year.

I honestly can’t remember whether I told my grandma that weekend or sometime later. It wasn’t until six months later that I had my second menstrual cycle. This I wasn’t surprised about, as we learned about this in health class earlier in the school year. We also had a school assembly shortly before my first period, from one of the multinational companies that sell household items, including menstrual products.

What I do remember thought is that once I started having acne, lola told me many times on how I missed out on one of the most effective ways to combat acne. She said, I could have used the underwear when I had my first period, lightly wash off the blood but not completely clean if off with laundry soap, and with the part of the panty that had some light menstruation blood residue, to dab it off my face where pimples are popping up. The things was, she said, is that it needed to be from my first menstrual cycle. Looking back now, it sounds kinda nasty, but I understand that she grew up in a rural area in the 1930’s – 50’s. My brother and I weren’t spared from other old-fashioned methods to address various illnesses growing up.

Thinking back now, there were so many things that I wish I learned about how menstruation works. Dealing with cramps every month was a common experience, but I learned later on about how it can be debilitating for other people – as in blacking out or being nauseated in pain. I wished I learned earlier on how having sexual intercourse works during someone’s menstrual cycle. Turns out, it is messy, but doable and pretty satisfying – as long as you and your partner have prepared to clean up afterwards. I wished I got adequate information when I was exploring birth control methods, so I can better differentiate what is “expected spotting”, “usual menstrual cycle discharge” or “excessive bleeding” when I adjusted to having an IUD implanted in my uterus. It took one year for my frequent bleeding to stop and I’ve had an IUD in me for 11 years, that I might have a learning curve on how to put on pads again. Maybe I’ll just skip those altogether and go with a Diva Cup or those fancy new period panties.

Compared to years past, I think that available information about puberty life and other life milestones is getting better now, thanks to access to online information, being referenced in mainstream media, and professional content creators. I hope that for kids, teens and their families, that such experiences are something that is anticipated and informed about ahead of time.

Book Review and Thank You Letter: Coming to Canada, the Ultimate Guide, by Chidi Iwuchukwu

Cover of book “Coming to Canada, The Ultimate Success Guide for New Immigrants and Travelers”

The remarkable thing about volunteering in the community and pursuing community-focused endeavours is the gift of meeting amazing people right in the city. This is how I felt when during my election campaign for Edmonton City Council, I met Chidi Iwuchukwu. He volunteered a few times helping with door-knocking during the last month of my campaign, and he was delightful in my telephone and email conversations with him.

Right around election month which was October 2021, he was finalizing the publication of this book that aims to help newcomers in the country, to ensure that the vital first days of arriving in Canada is as smooth and productive as possible. This is a thank you letter and a review of his book Coming to Canada, The Ultimate Success Guide for New Immigrants and Travelers


Hi Chidi,

Thank you for sharing to me about the book you were working on last summer. I bought a copy as soon as I got the online link from you and eagerly waited for the shipment to arrive. Here are my key takeaway after reading the book.

Immigrants from different cultures and backgrounds should read guides and information from people outside their communities. It helps with finding common struggles and identify tips and strategies that we might not necessarily think about, likely because of biases from our own cultural perspectives.

The language is pragmatic and straightforward with an easy to follow timeline, particularly the chapter of the first seven days. You can pretty much use this as a checklist. If I could, I’ll hand this over to people and have them go through it page by page, and check off the items as it gets completed. Page 15, getting your SIN – check! Page 18, getting your cellphone – check! Page 24, Connecting with Settlement Agencies, check!

Then this logical flow continues. Page 31-33, finances and credit card – check! Page 62 – learning about workplace etiquette- check!

Do not assume, communicate, read everything thoroughly, these seem like obvious things to do, but with the overwhelming and overstimulating environment brought about by being in a new country, these can slip one’s mind.

I really appreciate the discussion about mental health and social relationships with spouses and children.

I like that it is framed more as list of very important things to be aware of and adhere to, while also acknowledging the potential differences in people’s situations. As far as the topics, this is the most comprehensive list that I have ever seen, and it included chapters that didn’t even occur to me but are very helpful, such as the potential impact of coming to Canada on one’s marriage, if your societal values are different back home. It is not heavy handed in the sense that it dictates who should behave in a particular way, but it helps spark awareness to encourage people to have these deep conversations about these topics.

From a political and systemic view, it was sad to be reminded, yet again, about the social issues that you noted and. I felt compelled to do my part to minimize this, or to try to resolve in my own way. For instance, transit is portrayed as a potentially difficult way to get around, because unfortunately, it is 100% true. It reminded me of why I volunteer for the Edmonton Transit Advisory Board. You encourage newcomers to volunteer for their community leagues because every neighbourhood has one, but not the new neighbourhoods that are still being built so one hasn’t been established yet. Since I volunteer for the organization that supports community leagues, I raised this as an important issue. My dream is that every newcomer to Edmonton who is trying to get settled, will find their neighbourhood group in just a few months, where they can attend events, participate in activities and learn about Edmonton just a few steps away from their home.

I also wrote a more comprehensive review for the February 2022 edition of our community’s ethnic paper in Edmonton, the Alberta Filipino Journal. I hope that through my article, it helped spread awareness of this resource that you worked so hard to develop.

Overall, I’d say, well done! And if you decide to expand on this project, you know where to find me for ideas and content.

Pecha Kucha Speech Transcript: I made it out alive! My first attempt running for Edmonton Municipal Election during COVID

Giselle delivering a speech at the stage of Metro Cinema in Edmonton

After a long hiatus no thanks to the pandemic, it seemed fitting that my first in-person speech activity was with the same event where I did my last in-person speech from 2019. It’s with Edmonton Next Gen for their Pecha Kucha night! This is the transcript of my speech titled “I made it out alive! My first attempt running for Edmonton Municipal Election during COVID”

  1. That was nothing to sneeze at! It’s a phrase I never heard before, until after the election day. 5180 votes, Second place against an incumbent, with limited funds and during a pandemic, was apparently noteworthy.
  2. You should feel proud, I was told. How do I feel? Not that. I felt gratitude, inspiration, motivation and energy. Most of all, huge relief that I made it out alive, uninjured, not severely traumatized.
  3. There are many “typical” things you need to prepare for when running as a candidate, your platform, who to ask to volunteer or donate, the GOTV plan, short for Get Out The Vote, print and online communications and more.
  4. In 2016, I attended my first elections 101 program, hosted by the city for women who want to be involved in municipal politics. A current city councillor (born & raised Canadian white guy) did his energizing pitch that we, women, should run.
  5. In the Q and A I raised my and asked, ummmm sir, councillor may I ask, is it safe to run for politics in Edmonton, in Canada? Do I need to worry about getting killed and my dead body floating in the River Valley?
  6. He was shocked and reassured me it IS safe to run here. A fellow workshop participant told me, wow, I was worried about social media trolls, I didn’t even think about actual threats to my life. For me that was top of mind.  
  7. From then on, in the other workshops and campaign toolkits I accessed, I realized it gives some fundamentals, but won’t be sufficient to help me run a campaign that aligns with my values and will keep me safe, healthy and uninjures.
  8. Immigrants and visible minorities have a steep learning curve about the political culture here. It’s even worse when you came from a country where politicians, journalists and activists do get murdered on a regular basis.
  9. When a candidate knocks on your door, what comments do you make? I got “Do you have kids?” “What’s your background?” “Are you Native?” “I love the Filipino caregivers!”  Do male or white candidates get these also, I wondered.
  10. I know that all it takes is one violent incident to cause permanent injury and harm. I had to constantly think, I can protect and defend, administer first aid,  call 911 quickly when things go very wrong for me? 
  11. I have a very difficult time asking for help and this stems from a lot of personal trauma as an immigrant and an orphan. It’s a huge challenge to overcome and that was important, since the area for ward sipiwiyiniwak, where I was running, is massive!
  12. Campaigning during COVID added more concerns, on because of the increased prevalence of Anti-Asian racism. I can’t change how I look. I’m someone who looks visibly Asian, wears a mask, and also gets misidentified as Indigenous.
  13. The volunteers who were my fellow immigrants had additional fears that was tough to overcome. The big one, dropping off flyers in mailboxes. Despite my reassurances that it’s permitted. They skipped the ones that says “no flyers or no soliciting”
  14. They’re worried about getting yelled at as ignorant, rule breakers, they’re afraid of harassment. They’re worried about my reputation too. The tradeoff, better for people to not know me, than being angry at me after seeing an flyer they didn’t want.
  15. As someone who can’t drive and with a weak leg, I carried heavy supplies and went to neighbourhoods on foot, car and bus. Which shocked bus and uber drivers, seeing a candidate who’s literally living like an average person.
  16. With that said, many people donated and shared their time and talents. People doorknocked and flyer dropped with me in hot summer days and rainy afternoons, dealing with hazards on streets. Sidewalks and front lawns, across older and developing neighbourhoods.
  17. People I’ve never met until the campaign reached out through email and social media, who helped remotely and positively talked about my candidacy to others. Trolls were very few, but supportive people, thank goodness, it’s abundant.
  18. The next day, after the election I got a message on Twitter from a competitor I’m on good terms with. Like me, he didn’t win. His message said “well that was a waste of time”. And that’s one huge thing I disagree with.
  19. For me this is just part of community service and being an adult. Within  a week, I resumed my volunteer duties with my neighbourhood, ethnic community, and the city. I went back to my nonprofit job, booked a massage, and an appointment with my therapist.  
  20. I’m alive, uninjured and not severely traumatized. I plan to share my insights, and campaign templates to anyone who wants it. And if I’m fortunate enough, I might be healthy enough, wiser and equipped for a future candidacy. TY.

This post will be updated once the video of the presentation is available. Thank you to Edmonton’s Next Gen, the organizers of Pecha Kucha Night that takes place three times a year, for the opportunity to present, especially for something as significant as your first in-person event since COVID started. For more information such as previous presentations how to support or participate, visit https://edmontonnextgen.ca/pkn.

The Life-Changing Impact of School Choirs in My Life

By: Giselle General

Humans of New York is a Facebook page I have been following for the past decade, with is compelling and artful way of capturing people’s portraits and their stories of the subjects, usually narrated from their perspective. A series of posts not too long ago talks about a subject that was dear to me, children’s and youth choirs. It was a story of the founder of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City.

Music, particularly singing in groups, was a regular part of my own life starting in elementary school. I would say it is my first ongoing experience as a child learning how it’s like to contribute something to a collective whole. Usually the settings are religious, where students from every grade level take turns being the main choir for the monthly Catholic mass at school. I learned then the phrase “singing is twice praying” which I find compelling to this day, even if I don’t regularly go to church. There is something deeper, spiritual, and elemental about music, and even more so for me, when the sounds come from my own body, my own breath, my own vocal chords.

I continued this musical journey through the Catholic Youth Ministry student group in my first two years of high school, still in the village where I grew up. By then, it has been three years since my parents and sister died, and I’m very well set in my ‘parental’ and provider roles for my brother and myself. Home life was not a place of ease and acceptance. Being part of the Youth Ministry choir was great way for me to maintain some sense of age-appropriate exposure and belonging, one of the few ways I felt like an actual teenager.

When I moved to a high school in the nearby city, I was too intimidated to join the Performing Arts Club of my new school in the city, but I did join the Liturgy Club. That involved a lot of singing in the daily church service from 7 PM – 7:30 AM before the morning bell.

“Hear me Jesus, hide me in thy wounds that I may never leave thy side. From all the evil that surrounds me, defend me! And when the call of death arrives, bud me come to thee. That I may praise thee with thy saints, forever!

When I came to Canada at 16 years old, I joined the school choir for Holy Cross high school in St. Catharines Ontario, during my only year in high school here, Grade 12. It seemed like an easy, seamless way to be part of a club. I can already sing in English and despite not being able to read music, I can follow along once the instructor plays the piano and demos the notes. The first song I learned is O Canada which was really cool. It meant I was years ahead in preparing for my citizenship ceremony, haha! On top of religious songs, I also learned how to sing pop songs in a choral setting. I learned how to be the backup melody while our vocalist Danica would sing the main lines. This one I remember well, which is Apologize by Timbaland.

Danica our lead vocalist: “I’m holding on your rope, Got me ten feet off the ground. And I’m hearing what you say, But I just can’t make a sound. You tell me that you need me, Then you go and cut me down, but wait. You tell me that you’re sorry, Didn’t think I’d turn around and say.”

The other students, including me throughout this entire verse: “Ooooh, na na na. Oooh na na na.

Staying after school on Thursday afternoons, sometimes also Tuesdays, was something I really looked forward to then, because I was not used to the way things were in Canada with school being done at 3 PM. It felt way too early and I’m usually at home alone after school. It opened remarkable experiences and opportunities for me, such as performing in front on a baseball stadium in Toronto and me taking the yellow school bus for the first time. And also, getting a loyalty award at the end of the school year for being involved in the choir. This has significantly helped in my adapting to life in Canada, followed by discovering the Filipino-Canadian Association of Niagara and its cultural youth dance group.

When I moved to Edmonton and stared university, I considered auditioning for the choir, but got intimidated by the fact that the members are likely music majors, so those with superior vocal skills who are planning to make this their career. As I went through the motions of completing my university degree, the show Glee came about. I thought the show was entertaining and fun and cool. While in this case, the choir is more of a show choir and is flashier, I’ve seen glimpses of what reminded me about what high school choirs, and high school clubs in general, can provide to young folks going through one of the most transformative stage of their lives.

I got teary-eyed when I watched one of the performances of this youth choir featured in Humans of New York, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. The combination of the vocals of the performers and picking up the distinctive sound of youth, especially for the male students who seem to have just started puberty. Seeing how many of the kids are way shorter than their instructor/ conductor, and seeing how animated they are singing their parts.

My youth choir experience was something I personally cherish in my younger years. It kept me out of trouble and at the same time, helped me reconnect to my actual age and stage in life, that I was an actual kid who is still growing up, not saddled with adult responsibilities such as earning income and being the parent for me and my brother. When they are run well, youth choirs can serve as a bridge between kids of different backgrounds, provide structure, motivation and fun in a balance way for growing minds, and open opportunities for those who lack access in their own homes.

Thank you to all the adults that help manage youth choirs and other music-related programs and make them a success!